Sunday, December 25, 2011

grampa john

This morning at our church an old gentleman shuffled over to me with an air of great concern and put his arms slowly around me.

It was as if he had been cupping sunlight in his hands, saving it especially for me, to pour it gently over me so I could bathe in its warmth.  In that brief moment, faith sprung up, lush and green from some tiny seed within the crying caverns of my soul.  My heart knows when someone tremendously loves me.

The moment was too fleeting and I've already drifted back into melancholy again.  The old gentleman and his wife are going away to warmer climates and won't return until April.  I dream of going with them.  I like warmer climates.

Friday, December 23, 2011

dreams of belonging

flickr Creative Commons: Jakub Vacek
When does genuine, faithful community become possible?  I've tried for a long time to find significant relationships in which I feel comfortable and secure, having important commonalities, working towards similar aspirations.  If it's this connection that I so strongly desire, maybe the possibility of such a group starts with me rather than with trying to step into, or splinter off, something that's already established. 

Off-line and in the real world, my default setting is to believe that people don't really care what I think.  Therefore, they usually have to work vigorously or else be very specific, gentle types of communicators in order for me to open myself to them.  And also let's skip the small talk, thankyouverymuch.  I'm sure it has its purposes, and if you like that sort of chit chat then by all means jabber on, but I'm usually much more interested in your hurts and passions or the meaning of the universe.

I would like to say that my marriage has the intimacy I want, but it doesn't.  Our relationship has many positive aspects, but despite my efforts we never seem to get to that point of pouring our hearts out to each other.  You know what, though?  I think that's okay.  A marriage doesn't need to have everything in order to be a beneficial relationship.  In the meantime, however, I starve for creative intimacy, for the chance to be known by another.  It's why I come here.

What if I believed that people wanted to know all of me, even the ugly parts?  I'd probably talk a lot more.  And maybe my speaking would ease others into sharing some of their hidden parts, too.  Maybe in this way a small and intimate community could slowly grow around me, whether inside a church building or not.

My hunger for intimacy keeps me searching, so in a roundabout way perhaps it's my relational struggling that keeps me on, or near, the true path.  What if all this heartache leads me to the invisible, innovative Romancer?  I'm looking and waiting.  And while I wait, maybe I'll try my hand at writing another story.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the stinking tradition god

I grew up going to church almost every Sunday.  Our church was a loving community, although it certainly had its faults (they all do).  Several years ago, I attended a different Christian church for a while.  As you might know, each church has its own little culture, and I had important reasons for learning about this one.  The people at this particular church were clearly not accustomed to having outsiders in their midst.  These were the messages I received:

- you wear the wrong clothes
- your church is bad
- you don't follow our tradition
- you'll be an inadequate mother
- you're not a true believer
- you act weird
- you're going to hell

Maybe it seems too cruel to be true, but it is what happened.  I had a hard time processing it (and I'm still trying to process it in some ways).  At the time, being as naive and optimistic as I was, I thought, Well, they'll like me once they get to know me.  Unfortunately, as it turned out, their attitudes were much more deeply ingrained than I thought.

What really confused me was that my church and theirs had very similar doctrines.  I thought, This doesn't make sense.  We both agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our interpretations of Scripture are very similar.  What's the problem?

The problem had nothing to do with teachings and everything to do with tradition.  I don't think tradition in and of itself is bad, but if you turn it into your god I'm gonna get angry.  At this church they hold up their tradition almost as if to say, "This is the ultimate standard.  This is what saves."  There were a number of small differences in tradition between my church and theirs.  I thought, Who cares?  These are outward things that actually have very little importance.  They, on the other hand, were majorly uptight about it all.

I'm starting to understand that people who cling so tightly to rituals are ones who belittle the complexity of life by reducing everything to this or that, here or there.  They won't accept obscurity because they're afraid of not having answers.  They mentally filter contradictions so that they can have firm solutions.  I think it's natural for anyone to think this way once in a while, but these people seem to take it to the extreme.  It's a very small way to live and it's oppressive for someone like me because there's no room for dialogue.  And I love dialogue, especially the intelligent kind.  Accepting contradiction and ambiguity liberates us to be creative, to explore and experience the Divine.  There is truth within paradox.

There are some of these traditional people still in my life.  It's taken years for them to accept me as a fellow human being, for a lack of a better way to put it.  And, quite frankly, it's been extremely difficult for me to love them like I want to.  It's finally at the point where I receive eye contact and smiles from them, and even a little friendly conversation.  It's a start, and I am thankful.

I think the spiritual abuse has negatively affected my faith in ways far beyond my comprehension, but healing is taking place and I have hope.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

change is possible

I tried something new: "Newspaper Blackout."  It's a fun (and easy) way to make poems.

curiosity piqued
the young man had another question
he asked quietly in a gesture of respect

soundlessly slipping out the door
coincides with the tragedy
girls who live daily with the threat of violence
          all forms of violence

a small candle lit
a moment of silence
passionate about the meaning
          victims of violence

remember the lives who have disappeared
work for change
supporting transition
          change is possible

I want to be honest

I have a goal to be as honest as possible in my writing.

I've been feeling nauseated for the past few days.  I don't know what it means, except that it has something to do with this Truth-seeking process, this gigantic battle.

I'm scared.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

the crow

I walked, pushing my son in the stroller, onto the cold street and saw a black shape on the uneven ground to my left.  At first I thought it was a dark sweater, but as we approached I saw wings and feathers.  The crow, dead on its back, had no head.  I stared.  Part of me wanted to get closer to examine the details in its greasy feathers, to see each tiny etch on its twig-like feet, but mostly I was appalled.  I'd rather hold a spider.

When I lived in dorms my freshman year, one day we heard screams.  A dorm mate had a spider in her room.  A big one.  The squealing girls were waving their arms and hopping around.  I smirked.  Nobody wanted to deal with it so I walked over, picked it up, and threw it out the window.  I was proud of that.

But crows are different (especially dead ones) and being that I was on a Truth-seeking trip, I wondered what meaning I could glean from this ominous creature.  I couldn't put words to anything.

We continued on.  I was more alert than usual because I had the goal of loving the Truth out of anyone we came across.  In my little world, that just means smiling and admiring people.  By smiling, I mean the kind of smiles that start deep within and work their way out.  Certainly, love is more than only smiling.  Serving and empathizing come to mind.  But I don't think we should underestimate the power of a genuine smile.

I was blessed by every person we encountered.  Grace is everywhere.

Is there grace and truth in a dead headless crow?  Hesitantly and ineffably, yes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the girl who fled

the small girl thought it right
to be selfless,
to relinquish her real wants

the grown-ups praised her
for being good,
so she told herself
to go on giving and obeying

she let them pummel and prod
until she didn't know
who she was
but a bruised flesh slab,
sad and seething

so she receded

heavy on her mind
was confusion,
like the damp black hood
of a sweater three sizes too large

she clenched her musical hands
hidden in the wet cold sleeves,
fearing exploitation

and there,
the suffering swelled
until she yelled into holy silence:
"Undress me, lay me out bare!"

she turned to

the one she could trust:
the teacher
who taught her gently amid the affliction

the one who'd accept her:
the friend
who coaxed her out from seclusion

the noble revealer:
the artist
who opened her hands
to receive the highest love

the committed one:
her lover
who journeys with her even now
        and she gives thanks

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

flip flop

 I'm glad this didn't actually happen!

The numbers glowed red on the bedside table.  I rose in panic and threw on my bathrobe.  I put on my glasses, the ones that were missing an arm because the two-year-old had jovially broken it off.  I ran to the bathroom, yelling, “Wake up!  Wake up, you kids!”

We managed to leave the house in record time, my son still wearing a urine-heavy sagging diaper under his striped pajamas.  As I hastily buckled the girl’s seatbelt, I got a whiff of bad breath when she protested about her unzipped uniform and bare feet.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “You have inside shoes at school.”

I drove, madly, my glasses incredibly crooked and my own breath tasting like a rotting corpse.

I ran across the school grounds in my fluffy blue bathrobe, glasses still askew, sporting a purple Dora backpack and flip flops.  I didn’t notice anyone, but only ran with intent of reaching the portable as soon as possible.  But, in such haste, one of the flip flops flew off, so I turned and aimed my foot just right to get that little plastic piece snug between my toes.  But wait!  I forgot my daughter in the car.

I threw the backpack at the building and ran towards the parking lot, but my bathrobe had come loose and gusts of wind blew it open.  Oh shit.  Oh shit.  Had I shaved my legs recently?  Yes, yes I had.

Screams and cries blasted into my burning red face when I opened the car door.  “Mommy!  You left without me!”

“No time to talk,” I said, closing my bathrobe and pulling her out.

I held her because she lacked shoes and I ran again, but her weight slowed me.  We grabbed the backpack and made it to her classroom.  The teacher looked at my disheveled hair and her eyes slid down to my bathrobe and then to my flip flopped feet.

“Hi,” I said, breathless.  “Bad morning.”


I pointed to pink shoes on the shelf.  “She doesn’t have socks today, but—"

“I’ll take care of it,” the teacher said.

With arms crossed and face flushed, I walked briskly back across the school grounds, while the few remaining parents grinned as if to say, “Glad it’s you and not me.”

I tried to slow my breathing at the steering wheel, then turned to look at the toddler boy.  “I wet,” he said, blue eyes blinking.

That afternoon was the phone call from the principal.  She said next time it would be better for me to be late than get charged for indecent exposure.
flickr Creative Commons: David Reber's Hammer Photography

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

sharing the fountain

the children lean over the fountain
their soft pink tongues protruding
        the smaller child can see the water
        and feel its cool spray
        but he's not tall enough to taste and fully drink
 eyelashes against skin
         body straining with stretch
                   he cries
all he needs is a boost
so he doesn't have to keep on trying

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"happy" pills: are they magical or empty?

Gary Greenberg’s Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History Behind a Modern Disease explains why we have plenty of reasons to question whether or not depression is actually a disease.  Greenberg, a practicing psychotherapist who has experienced depression himself, uncovers how it came to be called a disease, as well as the events—including the pharmaceutical companies’ clever and deceitful advertising—leading up to the inflow of antidepressants.  It’s a history of “accident and misunderstanding and overreaching, of unwarranted leaps of logic and wishful thinking and the misapplication of scientific rhetoric, of bad faith and greed.”

flickr Creative Commons: farmer dodd
With twenty pages of bibliography, it’s clear Greenberg has researched thoroughly.  His work touches on the truth that science, though helpful in many ways, is flawed.  He emphasizes that when life pummels us down to the very bottom, we don’t have to accept that we’ve got sick brains.  We don’t have to hand our pessimism and anguish over to the medical industry.  We can instead take the opportunity to explore and develop our life stories.  We can let our suffering indicate our deepest spiritual yearnings, we can cry to God, we can search for the way to live.

This isn’t to say it’s wrong to take medication when you’re depressed.  Antidepressants are effective some of the time for some people.  But, as Greenberg notes, in trials for antidepressants, the placebo effect beats the actual drugs.  “A total of seventy-four trials have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for the twelve leading antidepressants.  Of those trials, only thirty-eight showed an advantage of drug over placebo.  That advantage, when it is there at all, is small.”  Also, a look at other clinical trials shows "that 80 percent of the effect of the antidepressants is due to placebo effects."

Faith in medication may help temporarily, but it doesn’t do anything to enlighten us or fill the deepest caverns within us that demand meaning and completion.  Furthermore, as Greenberg mentions, just because an antidepressant makes a person feel better doesn’t mean there was a chemical problem in the first place.  It only explains how the drug influences the chemicals already there.  For some people, it’s not important.  For them, all that matters is to feel better as soon as possible.  That’s okay, although I’ll be honest in saying I think it’d be much more worthwhile to get at the heart of things—to seek relief through honesty, by examining experiences and thought processes with a counselor or trusted friend—even if it hurts.

If you're ready for an intellectual challenge, I highly recommend this book (you can see more about it here).  In my opinion, the most important point from it is that we mustn’t let the medical industry dictate to us we are merely dysfunctional blobs of matter that can be fixed by science.  We are so much more than that.  It's true that all of us are dysfunctional to some extent, but we’re also mysteriously and wonderfully human, and we each have a story to tell.  Depression, although black and infernal at the time, ultimately serves to improve us, bringing us wisdom and greater freedom than we ever had before.  This is what I’ve experienced because I was open and brutally honest in emails to a loving, trustworthy friend while I suffered. 

What are your thoughts on this?  Have you ever been helped or healed by antidepressants?  Or, on the flip side, have antidepressants caused you more problems than not?  I know it's a difficult subject, but I’d love to hear from you.

Also, you might be interested in this post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

so I notice

To us something may seem like the smallest of troubles, but it could have a spiritual significance beyond comprehension, deep below the surface.

God, forgive me for the times I've disregarded another person's tragedy because I thought it too small.  Awaken my heart so I notice when someone hurts, and give me Your grace to offer comfort.

flickr Creative Commons: Brandon Christopher Warren

Saturday, August 27, 2011

take my shoes off


There's no water in this land and every gasping breath makes my mouth drier.  My heart is tired of traveling, of trying to mend ripped relationships, of trying to see beneath or beyond.

But I've arrived here at this moment, to drink this refreshing water while You tenderly wash my aching feet. I want to go with grace to thirsty travelers, to love my enemies deeply, to carry the commission.


O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Psalm 63:1


Sunday, August 21, 2011

the girl and the giant buffalo

Sometimes my daughter asks me to tell her a story without a book.  She was pretty impressed with this one.

Kassandra, a girl with long braids, freckles and sparkling eyes, heard rumor that a giant buffalo was roaming through town, eating up all the teddy bears.

She loved her teddy bears very much and wanted to save them, so she hid them in a box and put it in her bedroom closet.

Not long after that, she heard: stomp stomp stomp stomp.

"That must be the buffalo, coming to eat my teddy bears!" Kassandra said.  When she looked out the window, she saw it was true.  The giant buffalo was headed straight for her house!

She needed to put her teddies into a safer place, so she grabbed the box and put it into her parents' bedroom closet.  Then she dumped clothes over top of it.  "He'll never find my teddies in here."

She ran to the front door, flung it wide open, and watched the buffalo stomp through the front yard.  When he was close enough, she said, "Hi.  I'm Kassandra."

"I'M HUNGRY!" he said, in a low grumbling voice.  "I'm here to eat your teddy bears!"

"There aren't any teddy bears here," she said, because she wanted to save them.

"I can smell teddy bears!" said the buffalo, angrily.  "Give me your teddy bears!"

Kassandra had an idea.  "Wait here," she said.

She ran to the pantry and pulled out a bag of Teddy Grahams.  Then she put five of the little cookies into her hand and rushed back to the front door, where the buffalo was waiting.

"You'll like these teddies better," she said.

"No, I don't want those!  Give me your teddies!"

"Please, Mr. Buffalo, taste these teddy bears cookies.  You'll like them."

The giant buffalo sniffed them, then ate them off her hand all in one lick.  "Hmm," he said.  "I like these.  I like them better than the other kind of teddies."

"See, I told you," said Kassandra.

"I'm going to eat these kinds of teddies from now on," said the giant buffalo.

The End

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

backyard miracles

The water pours gently out of the hose, sparkling as sunlight dances inside its clear stream.  Blobs of wet light rush to the grass, splashing as they hit, bending the green blades, then they disappear into the brown earth beneath.

African daisies, in yellow and orange, stretch up from the garden cheerfully.  It's the kind of joy that speaks of glory and heaven.

The children's sweet voices sound out while their soft beige toes navigate through dirt and grass.  Those feet!  Those little feet, not yet hardened or made rough by life's unpredictable terrain.  My young boy cries now.  His heart is so easily broken, but he heals as quickly as he breaks.

My daughter runs to me with curls bouncing and words bubbling from her lips to ask for a bath.  If only we would all ask to be cleansed like this.  Our weary souls need it.  We're much too proud to notice our filth, much less ask to be rid of it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Inhale deeply
the sacred aroma
and blow love gently out
upon wandering, afflicted hearts

Be brave while you breathe
among the perishing souls
who refuse the life-giving fragrance
and stand firm, wearing the Almighty's armor

Rejoice with the souls
who receive and breathe along with you
who desire all that is good,
all that is glorious

The battle breeze smells
of life and death, life and death
but love conquers all
and its sacred aroma diffuses

Friday, July 8, 2011

chain saw

Old Theodore Nelson sat, hunched over, in his tired chair at the window.  He gazed at the single tree in the field.  He had heard rumors that a falling company was going to cut it down because its inside was rotten and the base of its one side thoroughly decayed.  The great Douglas Fir stood approximately a hundred and forty feet tall.  Its branches were as large around as dinner plates and its bark was three inches thick with deep fissures in its corky tissue.  For forty-five feet up, there were only black stubs along the trunk, the marks of an attacking ground fire that scorched the field five years ago.  That thing can withstand anything, Theo thought, anything but a chain saw.  He was sure the massive structure was over four hundred years old.

Margaret, his care-taker, puckered her red lips against the telephone and blabbered excitedly.  A mass of shiny hair balanced precariously on top of her head.  Theo couldn’t make out what she was saying.  Why doesn’t she get off that dang thing?  Theo thought.  She turned her back to him, emitting high-pitched squeaks from her throat.

He looked out the window again.  A pocket of wrinkled skin, coloured with age, hung from his chin.  He poked at it absentmindedly with his right index finger.

Margaret hung up the phone.  “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” she asked.


“Do—you—need—to go to the—bathroom?” she repeated loudly.

“No!”  The only time she would talk to him was to ask that absurd question.  He knew when his bladder was full.

He turned back to the Douglas Fir.  It was a lot nicer to look at than her.  Not only had the tree withstood a fire, but it had been hit by lightning one year.  The fir was flat-topped and the lightning had split a spiral into the top section of the trunk.  He marveled at the tree’s strength.  From where did that strength come?  That tree had impressively survived through so much, but in a matter of hours would be destroyed.

Later, two men arrived with a six foot chain saw.  Theo watched from his chair, two hundred yards away.  When the giant fell, the floor trembled beneath him and the dishes on the shelves rattled noisily.  He stared silently.  Then squinted.  Surrounding the massive stump, small green saplings stretched upward.  Sensation stirred inside Theo’s shriveled body.  He wept.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

the box

I thought I was free but freedom closed in on me until, finally, I noticed.

I thrashed around with limbs and ears and head crashing. This went on for months, until acceptance of doom settled mercilessly within. I sat there, sick and hopeless, unmoving in my prison.

The worst of it: I had willingly stepped into the trap, but I couldn't simply step out again.

I could either die or howl, so I howled. I cried out for deliverance. That's when the tiny pinholes appeared. I tasted those delicious light beams, and I thirsted for more. I cried out again, "More light! More light!"

Carefully selected tools worked together to free me.

Now, finally, I emerge but my muscles have seized from lack of use. Gradually, they loosen and I begin to move again--to live. My mind's been damaged, too, yet clarity returns like dark clouds slowly parting. But I wonder: am I free, or am I in a larger box now?